What Is a Genealogist?

Merriam-Webster Defines a Genealogist as “a person who traces or studies the descent of persons or families”

It seems like a ridiculous question to ask, but it never ceases to amaze me how many people ask me what a Genealogist is after I tell them what my website is all about.  The simple answer I usually give is that a Genealogist is someone that builds family tree’s and studies family history, but it is not that simple.

The fact is that a Genealogist is a historical  detective.  You can not build a complete family tree without having a passion for it, and a detective will never solve a crime without that same passion.  If you are a Genealogist For Hire like myself, you have to have that special something inside of you that lets you organize all the little pieces of random information in your head, even if you do not really care about that family on a personal level, because you still care about solving the mystery.  This alone can drive you to spend a day in the New York Public Library researching that family.  In my case, when I have a genealogy case, I become slightly obsessed.  I want so much for that client to blown away by my discovery, that I can easily fill my time searching the New York Phone Books, Catholic Church and Catholic Cemetery records, New York City Housing Records, and countless other Marriage, Birth and Death Records.

I think it would drive most people mad, even if it were their own family.  There is no doubt you have to be persistent when you are stuck at that roadblock.  Genealogical Databases and Brooklyn Zip Codes are not naturally things you are going to have passion for.

A friend of mine, who happens to be an Arizona Genealogist and the owner of the “It’s All Relatives” Genealogy blog said the following to me:

“solving the question who are my ancestors, takes a methodical approach…bite off only small bits at a time. Most problems are better solved taking them apart into smaller sections. Develop your method, stay focused and have fun!”

Those are two very important points any beginning Genealogist will need to understand. You can not start off your research today, and expect to be 6 generations deep by tomorrow night. At times, I can make that much progress, but only if all the records are right where they can be found and everything is recorded accurately. And this is only after years of experience. This is why the advise of breaking your research down into small sections is so important to follow. My advise to a new Genealogist would be to uncover all the easily found records first. In a relatively short time you will be stuck for a few hours around the generation of your great grandparents. Relax, you have 3 other sets of great grand parents, and maybe one of them will allow an easier route to your great great grandparents. I think the most natural curiosity tends to the Paternal line, and it is the easiest line considering the Surname stays the same, but that does not always equal an easy passage. When you get to the first road block you are going to have to be dedicated. It may take months to make that breakthrough – to find the marriage, birth or death certificate, to find the missing census report that fills in the blanks, or to find that grave site that fits all the pieces together. Usually at this point I would recommend that you hire a Genealogist, but if that is not an option, understand that the information you need is hiding there, develop your method, as my friend told me, and have fun!

2 thoughts on “What Is a Genealogist?”

  1. toc5871 Marian, I am certain that some aspcet of what we all do will have some sort of affect on our children. I am hoping that my son will be the one that picks up my research one day. Though he threatens that he will throw it all away. When I get letters from new found family members, he is the one that sits and listens as I read the hand written letter. Then, we will discuss what that person has lived through. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

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